Archive for October, 2012

Oct
10

The Lord is My Guide:: 3

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“He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name” (Psalm 23:3)

According to David, the final element of God’s guidance and direction is that it honors Him. So a valid question to consider with each step we take in life is to ask “What honors God?” God leads us in ways that preserve his character and reputation. His leadership will always be consistent with Scripture and consistent with God’s nature.

Think of it this way. Suppose a child comes to his parent and asks if its ok to only candy at each meal. The sensible parent will deny the request for two reasons. First, the parent will consider his or her reputation and character as a parent. The parent might reflect on the request and think, “What kind of parent would I be if I granted this request?” or even “What would others think of me as a parent if I permitted my child to only eat candy?” Second, the parent will take into consideration what is best for the child. Because the parent has wisdom and experience, the parent will realize that in theory eating nothing but candy sounds good, but it will carry some negative effects over the course of time. Over time, the child may become sick, malnourished, experience tooth decay, or more dramatically, diabetes. Having evaluated these things, the parent provides guidance to the child based on his or her own nature and character as well as consideration for the health and well being of the child.

God guides us “for His name’s sake.” He will behave in ways that are consistent with his character and that glorify himself. But the glory of God brings with it the joy and benefit of his children. Its not either-or. God’s guidance is both-and! God’s glory = our good!

Categories : Psalm 23
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Oct
09

The Lord is My Guide:: 2

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“He guides me along right paths…” (Psalm 23:3)

God’s guidance in and for our lives is based on our relationship with Him. As our relationship grows we learn to trust Him and to identify his voice by experience. But the challenge in receiving guidance is not just one of identifying the right voice. It includes finding the right path.

In Bible times paths could be created one of three ways. One way a path could be created was by normal foot traffic. As people used the path over and over, the terrain would be trodden down in a way that could be identified. Other paths weren’t paths at all. They appeared to be paths but were nothing more than patterns etched in the sand by wind. Following those etchings could lead one to dead ends or walking about in circles. The final kind of path was the false path created by robbers who attempted to lead the flock into an ambush where they could steal the sheep. It took a wise and experienced shepherd to guide the sheep along right path so they could safely reach their destination.

Finding the right path was not merely a matter of direction. When David described “paths of righteousness,” he was adding a moral value to God’s guidance. God is not just concerned about us being in the right place, He’s also concerned with right living. Not every decision in life is about “where will I be?” or “how much will I have?” Yes, we are primarily concerned about matters of location and vocation. That’s important, but not ultimately important. God is more concerned about the kind of persons we are becoming. What we are is always more important than where we are and what we have.

Categories : Psalm 23
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Oct
08

The Lord is My Guide:: 1

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“He guides me” (Psalm 23:3)

Are you a creature of habit? I would guess that each of us have some form of routine that we cling to on a daily basis. Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. When they are left to their own devices, green pastures become wastelands and foot paths become deep ruts. Because of that, shepherds know they need to keep their sheep on the move.

Notice the relationship that the Psalmist described: “He guides me.” When describing God’s guidance, David points to the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. That relationship becomes the knowledge base for trust. This single most important value in any relationship is trust. That principle is true whether we’re talking about human relationships or our spiritual relationship with God.

There are many competing voices vying for our attention. Daily we are bombarded with messages from the media and from other people that demand our attention. Many of these messages promise a better life or a happier existence. They offer solutions to problems we may not even realize we have. Somehow we have to learn to pick the voice of God out from all the static in the signal. We want F.M. clarity, but often feel like we’re stuck in A.M. Admittedly, it can become quite confusing. As Henry Blackaby would say, “We learn to recognize the Shepherd’s voice through experience.”

Learning to identify the voice of God is important, for He has the 30,000’ view of your life. He is transcendent, above time and space. He sees your yesterday, today, and tomorrow simultaneously. God doesn’t promise you a crystal ball, but He does promise to be a lamp for your feet and a light for your path.

On six different occasions, Jesus said, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.” We can learn two things from that simple phrase. First, we’ve been created to hear. God has created us with the ability to hear his voice and receive divine guidance. Second, God has something to say to his children. If we are not hearing the voice of God, it could be that we are either not listening or can’t identify his voice through the din of noise that distracts our attention. When we struggle to hear from God, the first and best thing we can do is to become still. Sit down and relax. Turn off the media and get quiet. Shut the door and get alone. Then we can meditate and focus on the God who is not silent.

Categories : Psalm 23
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Oct
04

The Lord is My Restoration

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“He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3).

Shepherds claim that one of the challenges with tending sheep is that they can easily become cast, meaning that when a sheep rolls over on its back it is incapable of righting itself and getting back on its feet. The scenario goes something like this. A sheep will lie down in the grass, then roll over on its side to become more comfortable. If a sheep is particularly fat or has a heavy coat of wool, it can gradually turn over on its back with its four spindly legs sticking straight in the air. And then its stuck, completely dependent upon a shepherd to come to its rescue and help it stand up on its feet again.

Like sheep, we can become cast. Usually the culprit is some sin or sin pattern that overwhelms us. Spiritually we become “cast” and find ourselves in desperate need of restoration. Over the years I’ve observed in myself and others some typical responses to sin.

First is denial. “I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me. I did nothing wrong.”
Second is justification. “I did it but had a good reason to do it.”
Third is minimization. “It’s not that big of a deal, why are we making a big deal out of nothing? We all make mistakes.”
Fourth is the plea of ignorance. “I didn’t know that was wrong. Was that wrong? How was I supposed to know?”
Fifth is blame. “I did it and it’s your fault or someone else’s fault. You made me do it.”

Sometimes we’ll even run through the entire list of excuses and responses, all the while waving our spindly legs in the air unable to right ourselves.

The Bible is clear with regards on how to get right side up: “If we confess our sin He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Or as a friend of mine would say, “Admit it and quit it.” It sounds simple, but its the truth. If we admit our sin and own it, God’s grace comes in and flips us right side up so we can move forward again.

Categories : Psalm 23
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Oct
03

The Lord is My Renewal

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“He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” (Psalm 23:2, NLT)

Yesterday I posted Philip Keller’s observations about sheep and the conditions that are required for them to lie down and find rest. The fourth one, free from hunger, leads me to today’s post. The Lord our Shepherd is concerned about our rest. In many ways He’s more concerned about our rest than we are. But he’s also concerned about our renewal and refreshment.

Sheep cannot find their own food source. They have to be led to green pastures where they can find food. Sheep will not drink from running water. Because they can’t swim they are afraid to drink from streams or rivers. In Bible times a shepherd would lead his flock to water so they could hydrate. If the water source was moving, the shepherd would have to step into the stream and use rocks to dam up the water in such a way that it would create a pool of still water. Then, and only then, would sheep drink.

Like sheep, we need spiritual renewal and refreshment for our souls. We are designed by God to give our lives away in service to our communities and the world. We are gifted and have received talents and blessings that afford us what we need to be responsive to the needs we encounter on a daily basis. But we can’t continually give without replenishing our souls. We need to eat and drink so we have the spiritual energy to continue our paths of loving service.

Last week I came across a passage in John’s gospel that reminded me of how we find renewal. Check out the words of Jesus in John 6:

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever” (John 6:53-58, NLT).

John 6 begins with the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Jesus provision of food made him an instant hit among the masses. But Jesus went on to make a point about food. Food will sustain our physical lives, but in order to find spiritual renewal we must continually feed on Christ. His analogy was missed by his original hearers, but we get the point. The life of Christ, including his ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection is where we find renewal. His body and blood are obviously important to us with regards to our salvation. But it doesn’t stop there. We continue to find our ongoing strength by returning to Christ for refreshment.

For me this is accomplished through the regular practice of the spiritual disciplines. Daily Bible reading, prayer, study, and meditation are simply ways that we can spiritually eat so that our souls can have the strength needed for service.

What are you doing to feed your soul? What are you putting into yourself to find spiritual refreshment? Where are you grazing? Nutritionists have an adage that says, “You are what you eat.” That saying is as true of the spiritual realm as it is the physical realm.

Categories : Psalm 23
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Oct
02

The Lord is My Rest

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“He makes me lie down…” (Psalm 23:2)

So how did you sleep last night? Would you say that you generally sleep well? For years I struggled with getting a good night’s sleep. Even though I would be in bed for 7-9 hours I would wake up exhausted. About three years ago I hit the wall and blacked out during a Sunday morning sermon. I was rushed to the Emergency Room by ambulance, attended to by paramedics who assumed I had experienced a stroke. The results of an afternoon’s worth of testing was that I was simply exhausted. The E.R. physician prescribed a sleep study, which revealed that I had sleep apnea. Once I was treated for the sleep disorder, my life changed. Now I sleep well and wake up energized for the day.

One of the concerns that the Good Shepherd has for our lives is that we find rest. Not just physical rest that is the product of sleep, but the rest that comes to our exhausted and stressed out souls. Philip Keller has written a wonderful little book titled, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” that draws parallels from his experience as a shepherd with this famous Psalm. According to Keller, a sheep will not lie down unless four things are in place.

1. A sheep will not lie down unless it is free from fear. The anxiety of possible danger or imminent threat will keep the sheep on its feet. I think that in today’s culture we are less alarmed by crisis than we are the uncertain and the unexpected. When trouble comes we can dig deep and rise to the challenge. Its the unknown that keeps us up all night. The shepherd’s role is to provide a sense of security a create an environment that is conducive to rest. We can find rest knowing that God is on security duty.

2. A sheep will not lie down unless it is free from interpersonal conflict. Sheep, like many species, have a “pecking order” that is established through aggressive behavior. In fact, for sheep it is called the “butting order.” One sheep will butt another with its head to create dominance. So if there is conflict among the herd, sheep will not lie down. We have the same thing in our species. Rivalry, competition, aggression, dominance are all part of our sophisticated culture. Like sheep, we struggle to find rest when we are experiencing interpersonal conflict. Unfortunately, we will talk to everyone else about the problem except the person we have the problem with. Jesus gave his disciples some great pointers for dealing with interpersonal conflict in Matthew 18:11-15. There, Jesus said to go to the person in private and confront the issue with the loving intent of finding reconciliation. If you’ve been offended, go to the person. If you recognize you are the offending party, go to the person. Jesus bullets out the protocol for resolution. It works!

3. A sheep will not lie down if it is bothered by flies or other parasites. Minor irritations can cause us to lose our ability to rest. Isn’t it interesting that we seemingly handle big things better than those minor irritations? When those minor irritations and aggravations cause you to stare at the ceiling, try putting it all in perspective. Remember that even as you read this, two-thirds of the world’s population lives on $2 per day or less, and half of those on $1 per day or less!

4. A sheep will not lie down if its hungry. More about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, remember that God is interested in your physical and spiritual rest. Psalm 121:4 states that God, the keeper of Israel, neither slumbers or sleeps. So if God is going to stay up all night, we might as well go to bed.

Categories : Psalm 23
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Oct
02

Gay Rights and Religious Liberty

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One of the blogs I follow is written by Skye Jethani. Skye is an author, speaker, consultant, pastor, and serves on the editorial team of Leadership Journal. He has provided a well written and thoughtful post today titled Gay Rights and Religious Liberty that I think you will find helpful, especially in a time where the evangelical church is lacking discourse.

Categories : GLTB
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